by Brett Larner
Three half marathons over the long weekend marked the start of the transition from ekiden season to the winter and early spring road season. The first elite-level Japanese half marathon of the year, Sunday's 41st Unzen Obama Half Marathon, saw a great battle almost to the line between pro Taku Miyahara (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and Keisuke Sago (Takushoku Univ.). Miyahara took the title in 1:04:21, just 2 seconds off the course record which dates back to 1996, with Sago 4 seconds back in 1:04:25. Miyahara's teammate Hayato Mera (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) was over a minute behind in 3rd in 1:05:40.
The same day in Tokyo, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) started off his season as usual at the 14th Mari Tanigawa Half Marathon. Starting off at world record pace with a 2:42 opening km he soon settled down to take 1st in 1:05:31, his second win and fastest time at the Tanigawa Half. Kaori Yoshida (Puma RC) won her fourth-straight women's race in 1:15:56. Japanese media coverage of the Tanigawa Half reported that earlier this week Kawauchi had declined an offer from Toshihiko Seko to meet to discuss joining Seko's new DeNA corporate team, telling him, "I have no intention of following anyone's orders."
Monday's national holiday saw a new women's course record at the 53rd Oita City Half Marathon. Local Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu), winner of Oita's 10 km division in 2010, took nearly a minute off the year-old course record set by her teammate Saori Makishima as she won in 1:14:28. Another Canon runner, Hitomi Shimofuji, was not far off the old record in 1:15:40 for 2nd. In the men's race, Takehiro Arakawa (Team Asahi Kasei), a former Tokai University runner who famously DNF'd on the Hakone Ekiden's anchor stage after breaking his foot in a railway crossing, won easily in 1:05:14, with amateur Ryuichi Tabuki (Hita T&F Assoc.) and Oita Tomei H.S. Girls' Ekiden Team assistant coach and former Juntendo University captain Yuki Nanba both just under 66 minutes.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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